20 April 2008

Publishing Update

The UK-and-Commonwealth edition of my Becoming Shakespeare (sporting a new subtitle and a new jacket, but otherwise unchanged) has just appeared from Constable & Robinson. The book received a very gratifying write-up in The Express, though it doesn't seem to be available on-line. Here's hoping for some overseas sales, since the US dollar is worth little more than Monopoly money these days.

18 April 2008

And a Strange Day It Was

Yesterday was one of the more surreal days I've had in a while.

I headed into New York for lunch with two friends at AOC on Bleecker Street. We sat in the outdoor patio area in the back, enjoying the loveliest day so far in 2008. As lunch was winding down, though, the exceedingly polite waiter came up to us and said, "Excuse me, but we're having a fire."

We did what any reasonable people would do in such a situation: we sat still and blinked at him uncomprehendingly.

Then, with a teensie bit more urgency in his voice: "I'm sorry, but we're having a fire, and everyone will have to leave."

We grudgingly gathered up our belongings and shuffled out, thinking that perhaps a pot in the kitchen had boiled over. Once we got out, though, we looked back at the building, and saw great tongues of flame leaping from the roof. Some of them were ten or fifteen feet high. And when someone tried to douse the fire by pouring something on it, the flames just leapt higher and windows exploded.

So we stood across the street, glasses of wine in hand, watching the blaze on a lovely spring afternoon. We got to see firemen breaking down doors and all kinds o' fun stuff. Who knew the restaurant threw in an entertainment package at no extra charge?

Then we strolled up a few blocks to an outdoor café to chat and sip wine. Across the street were perhaps ten uncommonly predatory paparazzi, all of them aiming cameras very close to our table. Once we figured out that we weren't the reason for their fascination, we discovered that, two tables away, sat the fetching Jenna Jameson, star of such cinematic masterpieces as Up and Cummers 11, I Love Lesbians, and who could forget Philmore Butts: Taking Care of Business? I did my best not to think about the fact that the café was located in the Meatpacking District, which seemed too appropriate a location.

It would have been a lovely day even without a fire and a porn impresario, but together they really did make for a memorable afternoon.

12 April 2008

Making Enemies among the Feminists

My review of Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife has just appeared in the Los Angeles Times on-line; it should appear in the print version tomorrow. It's a book I wanted very much to like, but it ultimately left me cold. Here's (most of) my final paragraph, which sums up my take on the book as a whole:

The real problem with "Shakespeare's Wife" is that it says more about fantasies than about the real world — both the fantasies of the old-fashioned misogynists and of the modern feminist. Greer does valuable work when she blasts such fantasies, but it's hard not to be disappointed when she does her own fantasizing. ... Though Greer refuses to believe it, many would be delighted to find that the Shakespeares were a model couple, he an enlightened, loving husband, she an intelligent, empowered woman. But wishing won't make it so.
A last-minute scramble for space meant one paragraph had to be omitted. I was sorry to see it go, so I've made room for it here:
Greer also ignores mountains of scholarship when she finds it inconvenient. The poem “Venus and Adonis,” for instance, is called “the one work of Shakespeare’s for which scholars feel almost as much distaste as they do for his wife.” Those clueless scholars, we gather, have never so much as glanced at the poem: “Year after year of multifarious shakespeareanising,” she complains, “goes by without producing a single discussion of the work.” And yet in the last decade alone at least 98 articles, 59 books and 5 doctoral dissertations have discussed the poem in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Dutch, Ukranian and Romanian. That’s a strange kind of neglect.

09 April 2008

Life Imitates &c.

From today's Guardian:

A German orchestra has dropped a composition from its programme after its members claimed the music was so loud that it gave them ear problems and headaches.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BR) said it had little choice but to drop the world premiere of Swedish-Israeli composer Dror Feiler's Halat Hisar (State of Siege), from a concert because it was "adverse to the health" of its musicians.

Members of the 100-strong orchestra said they could only contemplate playing the piece wearing headphones, after several suffered buzzing in the ears for hours after rehearsals. The 20-minute composition starts with the rattle of machine-gun fire and gets louder.

From Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy notes that Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones, are generally held to be not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but in fact the loudest noise of any kind at all. Regular concert-goers judge that the best sound balance is usually to be heard from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles from the stage, whilst the musicians themselves play their instruments by remote control from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stays in orbit around the planet — or more frequently around a completely different planet.

07 April 2008


Weidenfeld & Nicolson has long been one of the most impressive trade publishers in the UK, turning out some of the smartest history books on the market. That's why it's a bleedin' shame to see this:

One of Britain's most distinguished publishers has been condemned for turning its back on serious history books in favour of 'crappy' celebrity biographies and TV spin-offs.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, whose authors have included Harold Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger and Pope John Paul II, has culled a number of planned titles at a cost said to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds in advance payments to authors.

The Orion Publishing Group, which bought the firm from co-founder George Weidenfeld in 1991, is aiming to reduce W&N's non-fiction output from 100 to 50 books a year.

Far too much of that going on, say I. I've even seen some hints of it at Walker & Co., my trade publisher, which has done a remarkably good job of publishing smart books in a tight market. Here's hoping W&N sees the light.

Damn I'm Good

I'm coming — at least I hope I'm coming — out the other end of my busy, busy, busy month, which included trips to New Orleans, Portland, and most recently DC.

Contrary to expectations, and perhaps to the laws of physics, I managed to do everything I needed to do. (Except sleep.) Still have to put the finishing touches on the report on the book proposal, and the proposal for the Cambridge volume, but they're nearly there.

Meanwhile, Ashgate Publishing (publishers of my forthcoming Deception and Detection in Eighteenth-Century Britain, for which they've prepared a swell flyer) has asked me to consider being the editor of a new book series. We're still working on the exact rubric — something to do with eighteenth-century British literature — but I've been considering a few possibilities. Such as:

  • The Ashgate Series of Books Jack Likes
  • Ashgate Books by People Jack Likes
  • Ashgate Studies in the Kinds of Things Jack Would Write About If He Had the Time, But He Probably Doesn't.
I'll work out the technicalities later, but I think I'm on the right track. And a book publisher in the vast EBSCO empire has asked me to edit — I think edit is too grand a word, but who am I to argue? — a series of collections of previously published essays on major works and authors. (First up: Stoker's Dracula.)

So it may be busy, busy, busy for the foreseeable future.